TflE USURER’S GIFT- — ( Concluded .) ‘ A most unexpected and generous service,’ replied West, who, softeidmdown the first portion of the scene we have described, proceeded to recount to the fair orphan the narrative of the great crisis in his destiny. ‘ I knew it was so !’ cried the young lady almost hysterically affected ; ‘ I knew he was not so grasping—so hardhearted, as they said—as he himself pretended. I knew he had a generous heart beneath all his seeming avarice ! Oh, you are not the only one doubtless whom he has thus served !’ West did not discourage the illusion. Nay, the enthusiasm of the charming woman before him was contagions. ‘ Thanks to yowr father’s disinterested liberality,’ he resumed, ‘ I am now in comparatively prosperous circumstances. I came not merely to discharge a debt; believe me, it is no common gratitude I feel. Doubtless you inherit nil your father’s wealth—doubtless it is but little service I can ever hope to render you. Yet 1 venture to entreat you never to forget that yon possess one friend of absolute devotion, r eedy at all times to sacrifice himself in every way to your wishes and to your happiness.’ West paused abruptly, for the singular expression of the young lady’s features filled him with astonishment. ‘Yon do not know, then ’ she began. ‘ Know what ?’
‘ That I —am a—a natural child !’ she completed with a crimson blush, turning away her h°ad us she spoke, and covering her face with her hands— ‘ that I am without fortune or relations ; that my father died intestate ; that the heir-nt-law, who lives abroad, and without whose permission nothing can be done—moreover, who is said to be a heartless spendthrift —will take all my father leaves ; that I have but one more week given me to vacate this house by the landlord ; in short, that I must work if I would not starve ; that, in a word, I am a beggar.’ And the poor girl sobbed convulsively, while Bernard West, on whom_ this speech acted as some terrible hurricane upon the trees of a tropical forest, tearing up, as it were, by the roots, all the terrible stoicism of bis nature, and rousing hopes and dreams which he bad long banished to the deepest and most hopeless abysses of his soul ; whilst Bernard, we repeat, ventured to take her hand in his own, anl calm her painful agitation by such suggestions as immediately occurred to his mind. ‘ln the first place,’ he said, ‘my dear Miss Brace, I come to repay to you your father’s generous gift. ‘lt belongs to bis legal heirs. I cannot receive it with honour,’ said the money-lender’s daughter fiimly. ‘Not so,’ replied West gravely; ‘it was a free gift to me. I repay it with a natural, not a legal obligation;’ and ho laid the two twenty-pound notes upon the table ; ‘ next,’ be resumed, ‘ I have to pay a debt of gratitude. I owe my life to your father. Thus in a manner I have become his adopted son. Thus,’ ho continued impetuously, ‘ I have a right to say to yon, regard me as a brother; share the produce of my labour ; render me happy in the thought that I am serving the child of my benefactor, To disdain my gratitude would be a cruel insult.’
‘ I cannot disdain it,’ exclaimed the daughter of the usurer with a sudden impulse of that sublime confidence which a noble and generous soul can alone inspire; ‘yes—l accept your assistance.’
The face of Bernard brightened up, as if by an electric agent. But how were the two children of sorrow confounded by the discovery that they were no longer alone, and that their conversation had been overheard by an utter stranger, who, leaning against the wall at the farther end of the room, near the door, appeared to survey them with an utter indifference to the propriety of such behaviour. He was a man of between forty and fifty years : a great beard and moustache concealed the lower part of a swarthy but handsome countenance of rare digity and severity of outline. His dress was utterly unEnglish. A vast mantle, with a hood, fell nearly to the ground, and he wore huge courier’s boots, which were still sploshed, as if from a journey. His great dark eyes rested with an expression of royal benevolence upon the two young people, ’ towards whom he advanced with a courteous inclination, that, as if magnetically, repressed Bernard’s first indignant impulse. *I am the heir-at-law,’ he said in a mild voice, as if ho had been announcing a most agreeable piece of intelligence, ‘ Then, sir,’ said Bernard. ‘ I trust— ’
* Treat absolutely/ interrupted quickly the foreign-looking heir; ‘my children, do you know who I am ? No ? I will tell you, I am a monster, who in his yonth preferred beauty to ambition, and glory to gold. For ten years after attaining manhood I struggled on, an outcast from my family, in poverty and humiliation, without friends, and often without bread, At the end of five more years I was a great man, and those who had neglected, and starved, and scorned me, came to bow down and worship. But the beauty I had adored was dust, and the fire of youthful hope quenched in the bitter waters of science. For ten years since I have wandered over the earth. I am rich ; I may say my wealth is boundless; yet mark my words, my children. One look of love is, in my esteem, worth more than nil the applause of an age, or ail the wealth of an empire. The dark stranger paused for an instant, as if in meditation, then abruptly continued, ‘ I take your inheritance, fair child—l rob the orphan and the fatherless !’—and the smile of disdainful pride which followed these words said more than whole piles of parchment renunciations as to his intention. Involuntarily the orphan and Bernard seized each | hand of the mysterious man beside them, who, silently drawing
the two hands together, and uniting them in bis own, said gently, ‘ Dove 01,0 another as yon will, my _y°' in £ b'lem s, vet spare at times a kind thought for the old wandering poet. Not a word. I understand yon, though you do not understand yourselves. It easy to to tell a fortune as to give it/ And was the prophecy realised ? asks a curious reader. But no answer is needed ; for if the prophecy were false, why record it? And pray, who was the stranger, after nil? Too curious rpnder—it is one tiling to tell stories, and another to commit breaches o( confidence.
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LITERATURE., Patea Mail, Volume X, Issue 1242, 15 September 1884
LITERATURE. Patea Mail, Volume X, Issue 1242, 15 September 1884
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